Ah! The joys of modern feminism — so different from its beginnings and yet so much the same.
When the Oscars aired, women got an injection of activist fire from Patricia Arquette’s speech about pay equality — initially, that is — before what she actually said was dismantled and before she added more. The statement that triggered the ire of some feminists, people of color and the LGBTQ community was, “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” Perhaps it was unintentional, but nonetheless the problem lies in a lack of understanding when it comes to “intersectionality.” Intersectionality looks at the overlapping of oppressive systems understanding that these create a multidimensional experience for the individual.
Arquette proselytizing to POC and gays about equal pay dismisses those “intersecting” struggles that can’t be fought separately and shouldn’t be. Her statement ignores those people of color who are women and those in the gay community who are also women, some of whom are white women. She erased these people by ignoring the attributes that inform their experience.
I can’t stop being black, just as I can’t stop being a woman, short or over 40. There are things in my life that I can’t parse out because they speak to each other. Arquette’s request that people of color and people in the LGBTQ community should drop our own struggles to fight with a rich, white woman was disconcerting. The “us” she spoke of, only included herself and women like her, straight white women, not all women. Arquette is like many who miss the nuances of these arguments and since, she’s continued to dig in her heels unwilling to recognize her mistakes.
She is correct that women should have equal pay but her apparent cognitive dissonance turned the ask for solidarity into a demand. In essence, she said her struggle is more important.
Arquette reiterates a narrative that has plagued the women’s rights movement since its inception. Even more sinister is that she exposes an almost irreparable rift among the nation’s liberals. As James Baldwin put it, “A liberal is someone who thinks he knows more about your experience than you do.” When Arquette began receiving backlash for her statements, her supporters were quick to explain. They were equally willing to suggest why taking offense to her statement was wrong and that anyone who felt maligned by the comment was ill informed.
Arquette’s statement has another layer. One that says, “You owe me.” This is perhaps what angers me most.
When I help someone, I never do it with the expectation of a return. I expect only that my help will ease their difficulty. Arquette acted as if her support of POC or the gay community entitled her to reciprocity.
When I tell you, dear reader, that Arquette’s statements anger me, know that it is not because I don’t support equal pay. I absolutely support being paid according to the work regardless of my gender. I’m simply exhausted by entitlement. I hate every moment that a supposed ally exposes the stench of it on their person.
There are many fronts we face together as humans but it is in the detail where we make the most meaningful adjustments. We have to see outside of our own experiences so that we can allow each other the room to grow.
I understand where Arquette is coming from but she’s clumsy, messy and maybe doesn’t understand the theoretical subtext of what she said. It’s very possible. I’ll give her that much, but I will not afford Arquette or any one else the luxury of ignorance in this matter since the discussion has been offered in the open and the possibilities to truly understand the subtlety of intersectionality are as simple as a Google search.
Those who continue to claim that they don’t get it, don’t want to get it. It is easier to see only what is in front of you. To look beyond risks giving life to ideas, feelings and people who might not think as you do. It is unsettling and risks the stability that power makes people feel.
Arquette has the chance to apologize and reflect upon her mistakes. As it stands, it doesn’t seem that she’s willing to admit that her comments were poorly considered, and it doesn’t seem the Internet is willing to give her a pass.